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Another Season of Deaccessioning?

Has it begun? Last fall was full of deaccessions by museums, and today an email from Christie’s arrived with three from the Metropolitan Museum* to be sold in the 19th Century European Art sale on Oct. 28. The highlight, as Christie’s put it, is “James Jacques Joseph Tissot’s Victorian masterwork, In the Conservatory (Rivals).” Estimated at $2.5 million to $3.5 million, it is “a tour-de-force of the artist’s skill,” and I would agree. It continues:

In-the-Conservatory-(Rivals)-(2)--1875-78Gifted to the Museum by the esteemed collector Mrs. Jayne Wrightsman, this painting showcases, through an impeccably detailed execution, the splendors of wealth that were available in the 1870s this comedy of manners is set against the backdrop of afternoon tea in a lush conservatory. Tissot, a French-born Anglophile, settled in England in 1871 and Rivals was likely aimed toward appealing to the new generation of collectors. A classic example of Tissot’s “storytelling,” the Victorian work incorporates a plethora of gestures, expressions, and interactions between the subjects, but the plot is kept vague. This deliberate ambiguity keeps viewers imagining what has just happened.

Using the Met’s website, I could not find an image, let alone an exhibition history there. But the Christie’s catalogue says the gift came in 2009, and the last exhibition it cites was in 1955. Still, I am a bit surprised at this sale. Tissot is no genius, but what he did, he usually did well — and this painting, in the slide, looks worth exhibiting to me. Christie’s clearly thinks it will sell — it get six pages in the catalogue.

The other Met offerings are more modest: Jean-Baptiste-Camille Corot’s Deux bateliers en rivière, estimated at $120,000 – 180,000, and François Vernay’s Still-Life with Fruit, estimated at $8,000-10,000.

The Toledo Museum of Art is shedding 12 paintings, including Félix Ziem’s Embarquement devant la bibliothèque Marciana, a lovely Venetian cityscape, which has been in the museum’s collection for 91 years, estimated at $60,000-80,000, and works by such artists as Henri-Joseph Harpignies, Jozef Israëls, and Joseph Bail, among others.

As RCA readers know, I am not against all deaccessioning. But with the Detroit situation, people are watching museums these days. All things can’t stop because of Detroit, but I would hope that museums are particularly sensitive to the face they are presenting to the public right now.

Photo Credit: Courtesy of

*I consult to a foundation that supports the Met


  1. What terrible news for the public, especially since interest in – and appreciation for – Tissot’s work dramatically increased in the U.S. with the inclusion of a dozen of his most memorable images in “Impressionism, Fashion & Modernity” in New York and Chicago. You can see this reflected all over social media. The Met enjoyed the fruits of the turnout, but could potentially shut the public out in the sale on October 28.

    It is partly because some of Tissot’s most beautiful works have only recently been acquired by art museums that the public has had the opportunity to appreciate him. “The Marquis and the Marquise de Miramon and their Children” was acquired by the Musée d’Orsay in 2006, and the “Impressionism, Fashion, & Modernity” show is the first time it’s been exhibited anywhere since 1866. The Musée d’Orsay acquired “The Circle of the Rue Royale” in 2011 from the descendants of one of the sitters.

    Meanwhile, Gloria Groom – who conceived the exhibition and organized it with the Metropolitan Museum and the Musée d’Orsay – and who has newly been promoted to the Chicago Art Institute’s first “senior curator” position, notes that the museum doesn’t own a single painting by James Tissot. “Maybe now,” she recently said, “we can do something about that.” [See

    Or maybe the Getty will purchase “In the Conservatory (Rivals)”, after purchasing Tissot’s “Portrait of the Marquise de. Miramon, née Thérèse Feuillant” from her descendants in 2007 (and, until the Getty exhibited it, it hadn’t been displayed in public since the 1867 Paris International Exhibition).

    May the Met’s loss be a gain for some more far-sighted institution, and for Tissot’s fans among the public. Perhaps the days when many of Tissot’s finest paintings were reserved for the enjoyment of a few privileged collectors of “the affordable Impressionist” are coming to an end.

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